Shares of AT&T, Motorola and Lucent Technologies edged higher Tuesday after the companies said they'll work together to develop a new standard that allows people to use phones to retrieve information, such as email or traffic reports, from the Internet.
The companies aim to broaden the use of the Internet - and access to it - beyond the personal computer. The technology would allow information on the Web to be read back to users.
The first version of the new standard is expected to be available next month, with a final version ready for submission to the World Wide Web Consortium by the end of 1999. The consortium is responsible for approving international standards.
Shares of AT&T (T) rose 3/4 to 82. Lucent (LU) blipped 5/8 higher to 103 1/2. And Motorola (MOT) gained 3/4 to 68 11/16.
The new standard is named, not coincidentally, VXTL, or Voicetext Markup Language. That's a play off the common HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) standard of most current web pages.
"Just as standardization of HTML drove the adoption of traditional Web applications, standardization of VXML will drive the adoption of voice-enabled applications," said Maria Martinez, an executive at Motorola involved with Internet issues.
"The VXML Forum's efforts will not only help to provide a crucial mobile component to Internet access," she said, "but will also offer Internet access to the 58 percent of people who own a telephone but don't own or have access to a computer."
A common standard in important in high-tech sectors because it allows firms to develop products for a mass audience without worrying about whether they are compatible. Varying standards also add unnecessary costs to manufacturers and thus to consumers.
Consider an earlier industry, the railroads. In the 1800s, different states and different manufacturers made tracks of varying widths, which often curtailed traffic from state to state. Eventually the industry agreed on a common width, leading to higher rail traffic and stronger growth.
By contrast, cellular phone operators and manufacturers worldwide have not agreed to a common standard yet. In the U.S., so-called CDMA, TDMA and GSM standards compete, while the GSM standard is more prevalent in the rest of the world. As a result, a cellular user on, say, a CDMA network, cannot roam on a TDMA network.
AT&T, Lucent and Motorola said other prominent technology concerns, such as British Telecom (BT), IBM (IBM), Hewlett-Packard (HWP), Northern Telecom (NT), Unisys (UIS) and General Magic (GMGC), have agreed to support the new standard.
Written By Jeffry Bartash, CBS MarketWatch